Monday, August 14, 2017

Lynette Eason's "Chasing Secrets"

Chasing Secrets #4  -     By: Lynette Eason
In the final Elite Guardians book, bodyguard Haley Callaghan finds herself in danger on multiple fronts--from the local gangbanger who beats on a kid she's taken under her wing to the murderer who assassinated her family 25 years ago in Ireland. Detective Steven Rothwell takes it upon himself to back her up, but can they keep ahead of the bullets, bombs, and bad guys that never seem to quit?

Haley is just as tough as the other members of her team, if not more so, since she spends most of the book wounded yet not taken down. There's a lot going on with the story, between Haley's past, her bodyguard job, and her personal life helping kids, not to mention Steven's past and his current case that has no apparent connection with Haley's problems. With all that happening, the story certainly moves quickly, and as I have come to expect from Eason, it's non-stop action.

It definitely wasn't my favorite of the series--it didn't have the novelty I felt in the first book (the introduction to the women bodyguards), nor the out-of-the-box plot of the third. However, I think a good part of my lower level of enjoyment was a result of distractingly enticing non-reading activities, and the slightly less unique plot couldn't compete. I will say, the romance progressed fairly realistically compared to other suspense books, and there were some good thoughts on forgiveness.

Thank you Revell for providing a free book; I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own.

Elite Guardians
1. Always Watching
2. Without Warning
3. Moving Target
4. Chasing Secrets

Friday, August 11, 2017

"To Wager Her Heart" by Tamera Alexander

To Wager Her Heart (Belle Meade Plantation, #3)One year ago, two trains crashed outside of Nashville, killing over a hundred people. Silas Rutledge, new owner of the Northeast Line Railroad, comes to Nashville to put in a bid to develop a new rail line into Belle Meade Plantation, but the competition is stiff, especially for an outsider from Colorado. He needs help breaking into the Southern Gentlemen's circle, and Alexandra Jamison, daughter of one of Nashville's oldest families, is the key. Alexandra, in pursuing her dream to teach at the freedmen's school, is cast out from her own family and must provide for herself, so she agrees to help, in spite of her reservations--chief of which was having lost her fiance in the trash crash his father was blamed for. However, she finds herself learning to respect him. But in Nashville's post-war society, can they find the justice they seek?

One thing you can count on in Tamera Alexander's stories is a deep appreciation for--and attention to--historical detail. From the Fisk University (a freedmen's school) and its internationally renowned Jubilee Singers to hymn-writer Philip Bliss to the prevailing prejudices of the time, the story is rich with historical detail. While each book in the series is perfectly stand-alone, they also fit well together, dealing more pointedly with the prejudice in Reconstruction-era Nashville, while tying them in with the historic Belle Meade Plantation.

Alexandra grows a lot during the story, both learning to find her own way and overcoming deep-seated fears and grief. Like Alexandra, I found my initial opinions of Si changing. Not that I ever disliked him, but I was impressed by how willing he was to ask for help when he was clearly a strong, self-made man. The romance is sweet, gentle, and believable as they grow into friendship and slowly evolve into romance, each helping the other pursue their dreams.

Overall, it was an enthralling and inspiring story, in classic Tamera Alexander-fashion.

Thank you Zondervan and NetGalley for providing a free e-book; I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions are my own.

Belle Meade Plantation (contains some cross-over characters/connections to Belmont)
1. To Whisper Her Name2. To Win Her Favor 
2.5 "To Mend a Dream" (part of the novella collection Among the Fair Magnolias)
3. To Wager Her Heart

Belmont Mansion (contains some cross-over characters/connections to Belle Meade)
1. A Lasting Impression
2. A Beauty So Rare
3. A Note Yet Unsung

Carnton Mansion  (contains some cross-over characters/connections to Belle Meade and Belmont)
0.5: "Christmas at Carnton" (novella, October 2017)

Monday, August 7, 2017

Hillary Manton Lodge's "Jane of Austin" - a story of sense and sensibility and tea

When a new landlord takes over and remnants of their father's business scandal force the three Woodward sisters out of their home and San Francisco tea shop, they find themselves landing in Austin of all places. Jane is having a hard enough time finding anything to like about Texas, with their inability to find a new location for their tea shop and her baby sister unhappy about leaving her friends, but her older sister Celia hurting from a break-up--and refusing to talk for the first time in their lives--is the worst. But then, they have an encounter with a heroic and chivalric Texan, and Jane just might have found one thing to like about the state . . .

I'd like to think that just because a novel is related to Jane Austen's work, I wouldn't automatically pick it up--but that has yet to be proved. Perhaps I might have been able to resist, but there is that huge focus on tea and baking . . . and I love tea. So there it is.

Lodge takes a different tack from the average Jane Austen knockoff with the focus on Sense and Sensibility (as opposed to the more popular Pride and Prejudice). And it works really well; there's no Austen references in the text, but the story is undeniably a modernized Sense and Sensibility. I'm more of an Elinor than a Maryann, so I identified with the personality of Lodge's Celia more so than Jane, but Jane proved a bit more pragmatic than Austen's Maryann (even with her heightened 'sensibility'), and I enjoyed her sense of humor (not to mention all her baking and tea-making, though I cannot understand her love of chamomile).

I have to admit, one of the big draws to this book was that I knew it would have recipes in it--and one of my favorite recipes (a Moroccan tagine with couscous) came from another of the author's books. These look equally delicious. Other than a brief mention of seminary in the last chapters, there is absolutely no faith element, regarding which I was a little surprised and disappointed (especially considering the publisher), but on the other hand, the story is clean and entertaining. It is my favorite book by Lodge to date.

Thank you Blogging for Books for providing a free book to review. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own.

Friday, August 4, 2017

August 2017 New Christian Fiction

New releases coming out in August 2017:

Many Sparrows The Promise of Breeze Hill (Natchez Trace) Chasing Secrets (Elite Guardians, #4)
Many Sparrows by Lori Benton (Waterbrook)

When a settler's son is captured by Shawnee, she will do anything to get him back, even follow him in enemy territory herself.

The Promise of Breeze Hill by Pam Hillman (Tyndale) - Natchez Trace, book 1

After his indenture is purchased by a colonial plantation owner's daughter, a carpenter discovers that someone has his eye on the plantation and is willing to do anything to acquire it.

Chasing Secrets by Lynette Eason (Revell) - Elite Guardians, book 4

A body guard finds herself in danger when a case from 25 years ago is reopened.

Monday, July 31, 2017

"Dear Mr. Knightley" by Katherine Reay - a modern "Daddy Long Legs"

Dear Mr. Knightley
After growing up in the foster care system, Samantha Moore finds safety in books but can't seem relate to other people for her life. When yet another disappointment lands her back where she started--a group home--she decides to go to grad school after all. An anonymous benefactor agrees to sponsor Sam, provided she study journalism and write frequent updates. So Sam begins attending grad school, certain that the courses will be a breeze and she can fake the human interaction. But she learns that nothing is that easy . . . With her anonymous Mr. Knightley as her confidante, she chronicles the ups and downs of her journey toward healing.

There are a lot of contrasts in this book; it's both an ode to the classics and a very modern read, with tough, real-world problems. There's humor, but also a lot of pain. Both self-realization and lying to oneself. Hope and despair (though hope triumphs).

I can't speak for how accurate this story is in portraying an adult who grew up in the foster care system--the closest I've come is one friend who was adopted as a baby, but she has never had cause to doubt her parents' love. Regardless, the story resonates--the feelings of abandonment, the walls put up to shelter one from more hurt and disappointment. If this is even remotely close to what some foster kids experience, it's powerful and painful. I can understand why Sam would retreat from real life into fiction when things hit too close to home. To my limited experience, the author portrayed this really well.

Another thing she did well--the author knows her classics! Not just Austen and the Brontes, but also Dumas and Dickens and Shakespeare and others. I consider myself decently versed in the classics, but there's no way I could keep up the quote wars (though at least I recognized many of the Austen quotes). It was fun how she was able to incorporate them so easily, using them both as a guide for polite behavior and a weapon.

In some ways it's a coming of age novel (which is fitting, being based on the classic Daddy Long Legs), though Sam is a bit older of a protagonist than usual. It's definitely a moving tale, and one to make you think.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Karen Witemeyer's "Head in the Clouds" - an old one, but a good one

Head in the CloudsAdelaide Proctor resigns her stable post as a schoolteacher to follow her heart--and ends up getting crushed when the man she pursued turns out to be married. With no job to go back to, she answers an ad for a governess for an English sheep-herder's daughter out in the wilds of Texas. Adelaide's resume isn't the one Gideon Wescott would have chosen for his adopted daughter, but the way she draws out the traumatized child cinches the deal for him. When little Isabella's uncle comes to claim her and her inheritance, Gideon and Adelaide must work together to protect her.

This was the first Karen Witemeyer book I ever read, which pretty much sealed her as one of my favorite authors. A blend of humor and heart, both sweet and inspiring with a touch of suspense, the story (even after some four or five read-throughs) never ceases to disappoint.

I like how the author puts a different, more biblical spin on the phrase "head in the clouds"--while the term can refer to Adelaide with her dreams of love and happy endings, she's also got her eye on the sky to watch for a cloud pointing the way, just as the Israelites did when following God in the desert.

I love the characters (except for the bad guys; they're perfectly despicable). The story itself is particularly well-told, leaving one happily satisfied on all accounts. It's one of my favorites!

Friday, July 21, 2017

Jane Orcutt's "All the Tea in China" - a lively and non-traditional Regency romance

All the Tea in ChinaFun-loving Isabella Goodrich has never quite fit the mold of a proper, young Englishwoman, and when she realizes she has been put firmly on the shelf, she makes a radical decision. Having just had an encounter with the less fortunate and seen a new possibility for her future, she jumps a ship to China to become a missionary. However, the missionary she joins, Phineas Snowe, is proving to be hardly what he seems, and he is intent on putting her back on the next ship to England. Will her impulsive decision be her ruin? Or does God have a plan for her beyond that of the average Englishwoman?

This is the second time I've read the book, and it still greatly entertained me. It's definitely not one's average Regency romance, since it takes place primarily at sea on the voyage to China, and many of the popular social situations of the Regency era do not apply on an ocean voyage. Isabella is hardly the average Regency heroine, being not only scholarly but also athletically inclined, and actually desirous of marriage (whereas so many bluestocking spinsters tend to be in denial). For that matter, our hero is far from the suitable, traditional Englishman one comes to expect in the genre.

It's a lively, light-hearted book that nevertheless touches on some serious subjects, such as prejudice and loving those who persecute you, but in a gentle, compassionate way, not sermonizing. And I like the romance, how it kind of creeps up on Isabella and suddenly we see her perspective shift.

I wish the author had lived to write more Rollicking Romances.